My Top 10 Films of 2010

1. Inception
There’s a nice symmetry when your Most Anticipated film of the year ends up being your absolute favorite.  Christopher Nolan’s dizzying, ambitious epic is the reason I go to the movies.  It’s huge, original, thrilling and has already embedded itself in pop culture.  I see countless movies a year, each time hoping to have my mind blown, each time leaving slightly disappointed.  If I’m lucky, I hit that one movie a year that does just that.  In 2010, nothing else even came close.

2. Black Swan
Combining the ambitious theatricality of The Fountain with the intimate scale of The Wrestler, this film is absolutely the best-of-both-worlds.  Natalie Portman gives the performance of her career and Darren Aronofsky reasserts himself as one of my favorite filmmakers.  The last act is a stunning tour-de-force.  If you didn’t love it, you’re probably too old.

3. Toy Story 3 
Pixar is becoming adept at making sure each film they release has one moment that will make you an emotional wreck.  This film has two: the sweet ending and the shockingly heartbreaking scene at the dump.  I’m still amazed at how the film actually makes you believe every character might be about to die, even though you know better.  And to think, at the beginning of the year I was actually worried if they could pull this off?

4. The Social Network
While it’s not the “film that defines a generation” (or even as brilliant as the trailer), it is a fast moving, funny and extremely entertaining film about how Facebook was founded.  The cast is great, score is propulsive and dark and it’s shot like Se7en.  What’s not to love? 

5. 127 Hours
Despite the evidence above I’m usually not a fan of true stories but Danny Boyle’s intense, viceral film is indeed one of the best of the year.  Ten minutes in, you’re completely tensed up and remain that way through the end.  Boyle is great at making feel-bad, feel-good films.  You go through hell first but come out feeling like life is beautiful.

6. Greenberg
I get it if you hate this movie, but I also think you’re wrong.  Noah Baumbach’s abrasive characters walk a very fine line, (loved them in The Squid & The Whale, hated them in Margot At The Wedding.) This film thankfully strikes the right balance and get’s easier to watch (and funnier) through repeat viewings.

7. Exit Through The Gift Shop
A brilliant documentary.  Ostensibly about the rise of street art culture it’s a film about art that forces you to question “what is good art?” without ever directly asking you that question.  I’ve still got no idea how much is real but it doesn’t really matter.  

8. Please Give 
This film deserves the kind of recognition being showered on the enjoyable (but overpraised) The Kids Are All Right.  The film is funny, surprising and doesn’t wrap everything up into a little bow at the end.  A lesser filmmaker would sacrifice reality for convention, amping up situations for bigger laughs and forced dramatic confrontations but writer/director Nicole Holofcener remarkably resists these temptations and the film is better for it.

9. Red Riding Trilogy 
Conceived as a mini-series for British television the Red Riding films are really unlike anything on American TV (or in theatres for that matter).  I had the unique opportunity of being able to watch the entire trilogy back-to-back at the IFC Center back in February and it remains one of my favorite experiences at the theatre this year.  A dark, absorbing mystery that plays like a cross between Zodiac and The Wire, (but British).  You can’t help but get sucked in.

10. The Loved Ones
The most obscure title on my list.  The film has no US distributor but I was lucky enough to see it during FilmLinc’s Scary Movies series in October and have been thinking about it ever sinceThe film is a true original with several twists that elevate the movie beyond standard psycho fare and subplots that resolve themselves in surprising ways.  It’s definitely for the adventurous but when you figure out what the title is referring to, you can’t help but smile.

See Runners Up

Red Riding Trilogy

As I mentioned before I was pretty excited to see the Red Riding trilogy last weekend at the IFC Center.  Comprised of 3 films by 3 different directors, if not "better than The Godfather" it seemed to be at the very least a unique cinematic experience and fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.  In that respect the films did not disappoint and I would argue there was a cummulative effect where the sum was truly greater than it’s parts.  Conceived as a mini-series for British television this is really unlike anything on American TV.

Red Riding has a distinctly dark mood that permeates each film and a sprawling cast of characters that weave in and out of the story.  It can be hard to keep up with but instead of frustrating, it actually makes you feel like an active participant in the mystery rather than just simply watching characters uncover things and constantly explain them.  I had expected the film to center more on the serial killer but that’s really just a backdrop for the characters surrounded by the crimes.  The films are mainly concerned with obsession and corruption: moral, political and otherwise.  And it runs deep.

The first hour of a great show like The Sopranos or Mad Men on it’s own is not a staggering acheivement.  But that hour shows the promise that is paid off over the course of the series.  I found myself leaving the films, still thinking about the characters and wanting to know more about the books in which they were based and the real life events that inspired them.  Taken individually it’s hard to say how successful each one is as a standalone film but together it was a highly absorbing experience.  Recommended if you liked Zodiac and The Wire but wished they were British.

Red Riding: Special Roadshow Edition

Next Friday the IFC Center will be showing the Red Riding trilogy back-to-back-to-back for 1 week only.  The critically acclaimed British miniseries centers around the manhunt for the “Yorkshire Ripper”, a serial killer who terrorized England in the 70’s and 80’s.  The films, which are based on true events, take place in 1974, 1980, and 1983 and feature a revolving cast of British actors.  Since I can only think of a few instances of this kind of unique theatrical experience, (Grindhouse and Che), this is something I cannot miss.  For the brave, $25 will get you all 307 minutes.